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Aretha Franklin’s Estate Battle over Two Handwritten Wills Will Tell You Why Having a Proper Will Is Important

There's a misconception that only those with really complicated assets and lots of fortune should consider keeping a will.
Getty Images |  Rick Diamond
Getty Images | Rick Diamond

A handwritten will by singer Aretha Franklin that was found under her sofa cushions after her death in 2019 was stated to be a valid Michigan will, as ruled by a jury. The decision became a critical turning point in the dispute among her four sons. The 'Queen of Soul' passed away in 2018 without a will, and five years later, her fortune and legacy are still a matter in court.

Getty Images | Kevin Winter
Image Source:  Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Aretha Franklin now has two handwritten wills. After Franklin passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2018, one of the wills dated 2010 was discovered in the locked cabinet, and the other dated 2014 inside a sofa, per Sky News. Franklin's four sons argued over which one of her wills should control the estate. Ted White II favored the 2010 will while two other sons, Kecalf Franklin and Edward Franklin favored the 2014 documents, as per New York Post.

Cover Image Source: Pexels | Pixabay
Image Source: Pexels/Pixabay

The 2014 document says that Kecalf Franklin and their grandchildren would get his mother's main home in Bloomfield Hills, valued at $1.1 million; while the 2010 version  states Kecalf and Edward can’t benefit from Franklin’s estate until they take “business administration classes or get a certificate or degree.” The “Respect” singer seemingly wanted the money in her bank accounts to be “split evenly” among her sons, per the 2014 document. White and Franklin’s niece are listed as the executors of the will (who will carry out the terms of the will and look after the estate's administration) in the 2010 document and Kecalf and Edward in the 2014 will, per New York Post.

Handwritten wills are recognized in certain states and are also called holographic wills. This is only when the will meets certain criteria. Charlie Douglas, a certified financial expert and also the president of HH Legacy said, "The more recent will takes precedence over an older one." "This [proceeding] will be talked about in law schools in every state in the country." "This is why you don’t want to do it on a notepad," he added.

Getty Images | 	Jamie McCarthy
Image Source: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images 

"Everybody should have either a will or a trust,” said Richard Behrendt, an estate planner based in Mequon, Wisconsin. ″[Otherwise] state law will dictate where your property goes,” he added.

There's a misconception, that only those with really complicated assets and lots of fortune should consider keeping a will. However, there are many reasons why having a will is a good idea for everyone. You can be sure about who gets your assets, and your heirs will have smoother and faster access to your assets. You can also save some tax money and give gifts and charitable donations which can also help you offset the estate tax.

Here are the four main kinds of wills.

Simple: You can decide who will own your property after your demise with this will. This should identify you by your full name and also your address, have a date, and should also be attested by you. 

Testamentary Trust:  This will places some assets into a trust for the benefit of beneficiaries and names a trustee to handle it, per Legal Zoom. The inheritance specified in this will might be gradual based on age or other factors.

Joint: Like the simple will, this dictates what will happen to your fortune after you pass away. While creating a joint will, you and the other person (typically your spouse) can decide which assets you want to include. For instance, you could also include that if one of the will-makers dies, everything automatically goes to the surviving spouse who can then be the second will-maker.

Living:  This kind of will has nothing to do with the loss of life. Instead, it specifies the type of medical care that an individual does or does not want in case they are unable to communicate their wishes, per Investopedia.